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Food contamination

28 April 2005
Food contamination

If a catering business is looking for guidelines in preventing food contamination, it should begin with the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene)Regulations 1995. These rules apply to all types of food businesses from restaurants to vending machines.

The regulations contain general obligations and specific rules of hygiene practice. Incidents of food contamination can be minimised if these obligations and rules are followed and incorporated within a management system that identifies and controls hazards.

General obligations

Caterers should:
• carry out any operations involving food in a hygienic way. This means taking measures to ensure the safety of the food and whether it is fit for human consumption
• comply with the rules of hygiene as detailed in these regulations
• identify critical steps for ensuring food safety and ensure adequate procedures are identified implemented; maintained and reviewed on the basis of hazard analysis and control

The regulations apply to food operations which involve:

• preparation
• processing
• manufacturing
• packaging
• storing
• transporting
• distributing
• handling and offering to sell or supply food.

The rules

The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 are set out in several chapters which illustrate nicely the rules a catering outfit should follow. These are just a brief guide:

Chapter 1 - General requirements for food premises.

In brief, the requirements cover cleaning, maintenance, layout; design, construction and size of premises. There are also requirements on sanitary accommodation, washing facilities, temperature, lighting and ventilation. These requirements overlap with health and safety duties of an employer in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Chapter 2 - Specific requirements in rooms where food is prepared, treated or processed.

There are specific requirements concerning the type of floor surfaces, wall surfaces, ceilings and overhead fixtures, windows, doors, disinfection and washing facilities.

Chapter 3 - Movable and/or temporary premises.

The requirements in this section are less stringent, for example, caterers have an obligation to site, design, construct, keep clean and maintain premises in good repair and condition "so far as is reasonably practicable," movable and/or temporary premises such as marquees, market stalls and mobile sales vehicles.

Chapter 4- Transport.

This chapter deals with maintaining hygienic standards during transportation of food. Requirements include:

• maintaining the vehicle in good repair and condition
• the use of dedicated containers for transporting a particular type of food if cross-contamination between foodstuffs is likely
• segregation of high risk and low risk food if both food types are transported in one vehicle.

Chapter 5 - Equipment requirements.

This chapter contains rules for the cleaning of equipment. Cross-contamination of foodstuffs may occur if cleaning is inadequate.

Chapter 6 - Food waste.

The requirements are:

• not to allow food waste to accumulate in food rooms.
• to collect waste in closable containers. Lids on containers may be a source of contamination for food handlers. The industry guide to the regulations produced by the catering industry suggests containers for temporary storage of waste in preparation areas should not have lids
• to ensure waste storage areas are free from pests
• to have procedures for the adequate removal and storage of waste.

Chapter 7 - Water supply.

The requirements are:

• there must be an adequate supply of potable water (drinking quality water) which should be used to prevent food contamination
• ice should be made from potable waste, where appropriate and made, stored and handled under conditions which protect it from contamination.
• steam used in direct contact with food must be free from any substance which may contaminate it
• new potable water must be in a separate system to avoid cross-contamination.

Chapter 8 - Personal hygiene. See personal hygiene.

Chapter 9 - Provisions applicable to food.

The requirements are:

• not to accept raw materials or ingredients if they are known or reasonably expected to be contaminated. In practice, a food business satisfies this requirement through quality assurance checks on suppliers
• to keep raw materials/ingredients in conditions where harmful deterioration is prevented
• to label and store hazardous/inedible substances in separate and secure containers.

Chapter 10 - Training.

Food handlers have to be supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene.

Roy Tozer is a Partner in the Regulatory Group of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary UK LLP. roy.tozer@dlapiper.com

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